Liszt's late works for piano
Essay from the year 2010 in the subject Musicology, grade: none, , language: English, abstract: Franz Liszt, remains an enigmatic figure. Probably no other major composer of the 19th century, with the possible exception of Berlioz, has aroused such contradictory opinions. That he was a major figure there can be no doubt- the B minor sonata and the Faust symphony testify to that. But that he was a genius, as Alfred Brendel, and, no doubt, others suggest, is more debatable. Geniuses produce works which (1), withstand the test of time, often of very long periods of time, and (2), are perceived as flawless masterpieces (or as near to it as is humanly possible). Now, although Liszt passes on the first point- his work is still very much with us both in live and recorded form- I do not think it can be said that any of Liszt's works, even the very best, are flawless. Even the great B minor Sonata has at least two dud bars (708-9), and does not that great tune marked grandioso, and first heard in bar 105, come just a little too many times for the effect that Liszt was aiming at to be fully realised? On the other hand he cannot be dismissed lightly. His enormous output contains many works, which may not be masterpieces but can still have an uncanny power over unprejudiced audiences. I remember Claudio Arrau's magisterial readings of some of the Transcendental Studies which almost convinced one that these were indeed masterpieces, and Kempff's poetic and almost impressionistic touch with some of the pieces from Anees de Pelerinage. But whatever we may think about his final place in the pantheon of composers, there can hardly be any dispute over the position of the late works, those written after 1860 in which Liszt, virtually on his own, foreshadowed many of the new directions explored by composers in the 20th century. In mostly short pieces, and in the main for his own instrument, we find Liszt anticipating impressionism, atonality, unorthodox chords and progressions, and scales outside of the customary major and minor, all of which did not become common until well after 1910.
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